Be Impressed with Minnesota

To Southerners, the mere mention of the word “Minneapolis” or “Minnesota” engenders thoughts of bitter cold. Our minds dance with the images of white piles of slush being driven by flannel-jacketed men, their matching flannel hats bobbing in concert with the tiresome lunges of a shovel.

How wrong we are.

Cold is a setback Minnesotans experience viciously only about half of the year. The other half (give or take a month or two), the weather is as pleasant as Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood. Such was the case when I traveled there in the early part of June.

In reality, Minneapolis is like a Van Morrison CD on continuous repeat. With parks aplenty, abounding recreational activities, impressive architecture, and enough cuisine to keep the foodies sated, Minneapolis is an undervalued gem of a city.

The Minneapolis skyline, taken from the car | Photo by Al Blanton

On our first day, we got a sense of the Minnepolis nature scene when we took a walk down to Lake Nikomis and toured the beach and surrounding park. Here, anyone can rent a boat, rent a bike, lay on the sand, or throw the Frisbee.

The tranquil Lake Nikomis | Photo by Al Blanton

Previous to arriving at the lake, we took a walking trail that threaded its way through the dense Minnesota woods. A series of bridges arching over the water was particularly picturesque, and I was able to snap a few photos with my cell phone.

One of the many highlights of the walking trail | Photo by Al Blanton

Later in the morning, we were hungry, so we breakfasted at Hot Plate, located at 5204 Bloomington Avenue. The scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes, and thick bacon hit the spot, as well as the free cup of coffee (limit one) the waitress served up.

The waiting area at Hot Plate | Photo by Al Blanton

After breakfast, our generous hosts gave us a driving tour of the city. We passed by the stunning row of estates fronting Lake Harriet before arriving at the Lyndale Park Rose Garden, the second oldest public rose garden in the United States, according to the Minnesota Parks and Recreation Board. The garden boasts over 3,000 plants and 100 different varieties.

Just a few of the beautiful flowers at the rose garden | Photo by Al Blanton

In Minneapolis alone, there are 160 neighborhood parks and several regional parks that illustrate the state’s commitment to offering its citizens the opportunity to interact with nature.

We then drove to a shopping area on Hennepin Avenue, where I discovered Magers & Quinn, a mom-and-pop bookstore with titles galore. I was highly impressed with their selection, and the olden feel of the store was second-to-none.

To cap off a perfect day, we took in a Minnesota Twins game at Target Field. Supper at Bat & Barrel inside the stadium gave us a feel of the Twins’ fans commitment to their team, and later, watching two great sluggers, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels, face off against Twins’ pitching was just a thrill. Just before the 7th inning stretch, we bought a bag of cotton candy and feasted on the sweet treat until our tongues were blue.

The view from Bat & Barrel | Photo by Al Blanton
Target Field | Photo by Al Blanton

The next day, brunch at Tilia in Linden Hills got our day off on the right foot. The sky was seriously overcast, so we decided to do some shopping and went over to this cool store called Hunt & Gather after our delicious brunch. After perusing the unique gifts, I purchased a few items, including two super-old Saturday Evening Posts, one with Harry Truman on the cover and the other with The Beatles.

A few of the unique items at Hunt & Gather

We had planned on traveling over to the small towns of Wayzata and Excelsior, but the weather was threatening to stifle our excursion. But the sun came out, hallelujah, and a stroll through the cute shops of Excelsior took up a large part of our afternoon.

Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream Shop in Excelsior | Photo by Al Blanton
The Country Look in Antiques in downtown Excelsior was a cool store | Photo by Al Blanton

Moseying over to Wayzata, we dined at the casual-but-sophisticated Cov restaurant, where I enjoyed a plate of Cioppino, a mix of north Atlantic lobster, scallops, shrimp, mussels, roasted fennel, and tomato fumet. For an appetizer, we had a dozen oysters on the half-shell, which were delectable.

Dinner at Cov was outstanding | Photo by Al Blanton

After dinner, we strolled through the charming streets of Wayzata, admiring the nearby lake and the docks. Our eventual destination was Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, where we enjoyed immensely a double scoop in a waffle cone.

Ben & Jerry’s – Wayzata | Photo by Al Blanton

But mostly, we dreamed about owning one of the spectacular manses on the lake, and wished we had enough disposable income to one day summer here. As we were leaving town, we had to stop and get a few snaps of the boats parked in the water as the sun was softly dipping in the western sky.

Had to stop and get a picture of these boats | Photo by Al Blanton

We greeted Sunday with a trip to nearby St. Paul. Just a stone’s throw from Minneapolis, St. Paul, size-wise, is the Danny DeVito to Arnold Schwarzenneger in the movie Twins—though no less entertaining. My first view of the splendor of St. Paul occurred when the car turned onto Mississippi River Avenue, where massive houses in Tudor, contemporary, and Greek revival style flanked the road. I thought my neck was craning until we made a right onto Summit Avenue, where a seemingly endless row of massive houses stretched out on either side of the road. In my adult life, I have rarely—if ever—been more impressed with a pair of streets. On Summit, I was agog at monstrous house after monstrous house, rising, endless. The great quote from Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who said, “Few cities in the Midwest, or elsewhere for that matter, can match the rich architectural history of St. Paul,” utterly resonated with me.

Cathedral of St. Paul | Photo by Al Blanton
Another great look at the cathedral | Photo by Al Blanton

But then, we went to the crème de la crème of architectural grandeur, the Cathedral at St. Paul. This massive edifice overlooking downtown St. Paul is a breathtaking reminder of the glory of the Cross.

Our car magnetically emptied into downtown St. Paul before traveling back to Minneapolis, where we decided to go for a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. This former railroad bridge connects the Mill City area to downtown and boasts pedestrians, violinists, joggers, and bicyclists, as well as recent college graduates and fiancés posing for a photo op. The bridge also offers a terrific view of the Minneapolis skyline and St. Anthony Falls, so don’t forget your camera.

Stone Arch Bridge with the Minneapolis skyline | Photo by Al Blanton

After that little excursion, we had lunch at a place called Revival, nestled into a corner lot on Nicollet Avenue. Described as a “comfort food” venue, Revival’s specialty is chicken & waffles, a plate which I feasted upon excitedly. If you order a bottled Coke, for a moment you’ll think you’re in the deep South, but Revival’s hipsterish verve is far from the dilapidated greasy spoon. And that’s precisely what makes this place so unique.

Chicken & Waffles at Revival | Photo by Al Blanton

After days of gorging on Minnesota food, we all needed a nap. That night, we appropriately concluded our trip by grilling steaks and sitting out back listening to Van Morrison on continuous repeat.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. Minneapolis is an impressive city that is truly spectacular in the summer. Sure, it’s cold in the winter, but when you think of Minnesota again, think green, not white. 78











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